Archery tournament design

Over the last couple of days, I switched on the TV in order to “jinx” two of India’s more promising archers in their respective games at the Olympics. On Monday evening, I switched on the TV to see R Banerjee (forget his first name) lose a close game in the round of 32. Yesterday, I watched Tarundeep Rai shoot well but still get well beaten by an absolutely in-form guy named Kim (from Korea, where else?). As I watched these matches, I was thinking about the nature of competition in archery.

Archery is a fundamentally single-player event. You are competing against yourself, and how well you do is not supposed to be affected by how well someone else does. There is no direct opponent you are playing against who tries to prevent you from scoring. In some ways, you can consider it to be similar to running. The only element of competition is the pressure that is exerted upon you be opponents competing simultaneously. In this context, it is indeed surprising that the archery event has been designed as a one-on-one knockout, like you would expect for a direct-opposition sport like tennis.

An event directly comparable to archery in terms of fundamentals is shooting – there again, there is no impact of one player on another’s performance but for the pressure exerted by means of simultaneous competition. Shooting, however, goes the “races” (running/swimming) way by means of having heats where only one’s absolute performance matters in terms of score matters (there is no limit on the number of the number of finalists from one heat; the best 8 or 10 participants across heats make it).

Then why is it that archery, which is fundamentally similar to these sports in terms of fundamental concepts, relies on head-to-head competition, and that too with no repechage? Yesterday, I watched Tarundeep Rai come up against an absolutely inspired Kim – Kim was in such imperious form that irrespective of how well Rai would have done he wouldn’t have qualified. Rai didn’t play badly, “against” any other opponent or on another day, he would have definitely done better. In a “direct combat” sport (such as tennis), one can point to the luck of the draw and similar matters. But in a distinctly non-combative sport such as archery why should artificial tournament standards be designed and that extra bit of luck be introduced?

I hope the archery administrators realize the stupidity of the curent format and move to one that is similar to what we see in shooting today.

Sachin’s 100th

In the end it was quite appropriate. That the needlessly hyped “false statistic” of Sachin’s 100 100s came about in a match against a supposed minnow, in an inconsequential tournament, which didn’t even help India win the game. The hype surrounding this statistic had become unbearable, both for normal cricket fans and also for Sachin, perhaps. And that could be seen in his batting over the last one year, in England and in Australia. There was a distinct feeling that every time he just kept playing for his century, and not for the team cause, and the only upshot of his “100th 100” is that the monkey is finally off his back and hopefully Sachin can go back to playing normal cricket.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of other milestones round the corner. He now has 49 ODI 100s, so now people will hype up his 50th. And as someone pointed out on facebook yesterday, he has 199 international wickets! Hopefully that means he starts turning his arm over once again, with his lethal spinning leg-breaks and long hops.

The thing with Sachin is that he has always seemed to be statistically minded (irrespective of what he says in his interviews). The mind goes back to Cuttack during World Cup 1996, when he played out two maiden overs against Asif Karim while trying to get to his 100 (against Kenya). Even in recent times, including in 2007 when he got out in the 90s a large number of times, it is noticeable how he suddenly slows down the innings once he gets into the 90s. He gets nervous, starts thinking only about the score, and not about batting normally.

In that sense, it is appropriate that this meaningless statistic of a hundredth hundred came about in a game that India lost, to a supposed minnow. It was a “batting pitch”. As Raina and Dhoni showed in the latter stages of the innings, shotmaking wasn’t particularly tough. And yet, what did Sachin do? Plod at a strike rate of 75 for most of the innings, including in the crucial batting powerplay just so that he could get to his 100. I don’t fault his batting for the first 35 overs. He did what was required to set up a solid foundation, in Kohli’s company. But in the batting powerplay, instead of going for it, the only thing on his mind was the century. Quite unfortunate. And appropriate, as I’ve said a number off times earlier.

Again, I want to emphasize that I’m NOT an anti-Sachintard. I’ve quite enjoyed his batting in the past, and there is no question that he is one of the all-time great cricketers. I’m only against meaningless stat-tardness. And it was this retardation about a meaningless stat that prevented Sachin from giving his best for the last one year.

Ranji Trophy and the Ultimatum Game

The Ultimatum Game is a commonly used research tool in behavioural economics. It is a “game” played between two players (say A and B) where A is given a sum of money which he has to split among himself and B. If B “accepts” the split, ┬áboth of them get the money as per A’s proposal. If, however, B rejects it, ┬áboth A and B get nothing.

This setup has been useful for behavioural economists to prove that people are not always necessarily rational. If everyone were to be rational, B would accept the split as long as he was given any amount greater than zero. However, real-life experiments have shown that B players frequently reject the deal when they think the split is “unfair”.

A version of this is being played out in this year’s Ranji Trophy thanks to some strange rules regarding points split in drawn games. A win fetches five points while a loss fetches none. In case of a drawn game, if the first innings of both sides has been completed, the team that has scored higher in the first innings gets three points, while the other team gets one. The rules, however, get interesting if not even one innings for each side has been completed. If the match has been rain affected and overs have been lost, both sides get two points each. Otherwise, both sides get zero points each!

I don’t know about the rationale of this strange points system, but I guess it is there to act as a deterrent against teams preparing featherbeds, batting for most of the four days and not even trying to win the match. In general, I haven’t been a fan at all of the Ranji Trophy’s points scoring system, and think it’s quite irrational and so refuse to comment on this rule. What I will comment about, however, is about the “ultimatum” opportunity this throws up.

In the first round of matches, Saurashtra batted first against Orissa and piled up a mammoth 545 in a little under two days. The magnitude of the score and the time left in the match meant that Orissa had been shut out of the game, and the best they could’ve done was to overtake Saurashtra on first innings score and get themselves three points. However, they batted slowly and steadily, with Natraj Behera scoring a patient double century, and with a few minutes to go in the game, they were still over 50 runs adrift of Saurashtra’s score, with three wickets in hand.

At that time, they had the chance to declare their innings, still some runs adrift of Saurashtra’s score, and collect one point, and handing over three points to Saurashtra. They, however, chose to bat on and block the game, and both teams finally ended up with zero points. It maybe because they also see Saurashtra as a competitor for “relegation”, but I thought this was irrational. Why would they deny themselves one point – if only to deny Saurashtra three points? It’s all puzzling.

Going forward, though, I hope the Ranji Trophy rules are changed to make each game a zero sum game (literally). Or else they could adopt the soccer scoring of 3 points for a win and 1 for a draw (something I’ve long advocated), first innings lead be damned!

Gyaan From a Former All India Topper

CAT is less than a month away. Or more, depending on when you’re writing it. If any aspirants are reading this, I have just one piece of advice for you – which no one in any CAT Factory will give you. It’s about going for it. About batting like Sehwag. About reaching out far outside the off stump and playing every ball. I just want to assure you that percentages are in favour of this kind of a game.

In my zamaana, every correct answer in CAT gave you one mark, and every incorrect answer took away a third of a mark. Every question had four possible answers of which exactly one was correct. This negative marking had a completely psyching out effect on most takers, and people are afraid to go for it. And six years back, I liked it. For it made my own risk-taking strategy much easier – since I could now afford a larger number of errors.

The arithmetic is simple. Even if you have no clue about the question, and just put inky-pinky-ponky (or even better mark ‘C’, since years of research has proven that it’s the statistically most probable answer in CAT) you have one-fourth chance of getting it right – which gives a three-fourth probability of getting it wrong. And given the payoffs for correct and incorrect answers (1; -1/3) you can clearly see that the expected payoff of taking a completely random guess is ZERO!

So while this obviously rules out insane inky-pinky-ponkying, what it does tell you is that if you can eliminate at least one of the four choices, you are in the money! If you have to pick one of three possible answers, the expected payoff is 1/9 which is greater than zero. Yeah it doesn’t look very high but then the expected payoff is positive! So you need to go for it.

Back when I was in my 3rd year, there was some free mock CAT at IITM. And some of us 3rd years went just for the heck of it. I attemped 130 out of 150 questions, getting 90 right and 40 wrong. It still gave me a significantly higher score than any of my seniors (who were writing CAT that year) – most of whom attemped not more than seventy. Later that day a senior called me aside and told me that the art of CAT was about leaving questions. And that it was all about the questions that you left.

Leaving the ball makes sense in cricket where one mistake ends your innings. What if instead of ending your innings you were just deducted 2 runs everytime you got out? Would you still leave the balls outside off and play the waiting game? How on earth would you score runs if you were to leave every ball? It’s all about scoring, and you can score only if you attempt a shot.

I understand that CAT format has changed now and you have 5 possible correct answers for every question while the negatives are still at 1/3. Even then, if you can eliminate two out of the five answers (shouldn’t be too gouth), you have a positive payoff. And you must go for it. Keep in mind that you can’t score if you don’t play the ball.

I leave you with a video. The message is in the name of the song. Idu One Day Matchu Kano. This is a one day match dude. So you must go for every ball. And look to score.